Turkey-US relations to be tested by F-35 crisis

NUR ÖZKAN ERBAY
ANKARA
Published 19.07.2019 00:07

The White House and Pentagon statement suspending Turkey from the F-35 fighter jet program, which they have been threatening to do for quite some time, came to the fore in media reports yesterday. Ankara responded to Washington's announcement with harsh words.

After all, it was expected that tension would rise in Ankara-Washington relations with this ongoing issue. The most important matter, on the other hand, was the level of harshness of the incoming statements, possible sanctions and whether a door would be left open on the subject.

After the decision by the U.S. government on the issue, statements from the White House and Pentagon could be interpreted as "let us not aggravate but rather emphasize our relations with Turkey because we do not have the luxury of losing them."

As expressed by both Washington and NATO executives, "The role of Turkey is much broader than the F-35 or S-400," said NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, speaking at the Aspen Institute's annual security forum in Colorado on Wednesday. Besides, the White House's statement highlighted Turkey's stance as a trusted partner and NATO ally for over six decades and stated that the U.S. still greatly values its strategic relationship with Turkey. "As NATO allies, our relationship is multilayered, and not solely focused on the F-35," the White House statement continued. These statements, especially those of Washington, are of vital importance for drafting projections on the near future. Washington has created political controversy on the issue that could have been resolved smoothly from the beginning. To deter other potential S-400 buyers after Turkey and to make an example of Ankara, Turkey was pressured to back down from its decision.

Likewise, security analysts from Ankara say the risks that could arise from F-35 and S-400 integration are risks that cannot be removed easily, contrary to what Washington claimed, and that this matter can be potentially tested during the purchase of Turkey's Patriot missile systems in the near future.

"Even though the U.S. removed Turkey from the F-35 stealth fighter jet program, it sees no harm in giving Turkey Patriots; whereas the Patriots and F-35 jets are integrated systems as well. Why doesn't the U.S. have any drawbacks on Patriots? This is the biggest contradiction," said Dr. Murat Aslan a security analyst and professor at Hasan Kalyoncu University.

Turkey has put forward the same argument since the beginning of the dispute. Other examples indicating the contradictions and confuting U.S. arguments also exist. Close by, in Greece, a NATO ally, the Russian air missile system TOR-M1 and NATO integrated SA8 systems are both to be found.

Another contradiction of the U.S. is the NATO integrated missile defense systems deployed in Bulgaria and Romania. These systems are responsible for protecting Europe from potential threats from the East. However, Washington has still not answered the questions as to which missile defense system would protect Turkey, home to the second-largest NATO army, until Turkey's final decision to buy the S-400 missile system.

On the other hand, as stated by professor Çağrı Erhan from Altınbaş University, "According to Article 3 of NATO's acquis, each NATO ally is required to develop its individual national defense capacities in line with the contribution it made to the collective capacities of the pact." When all these facts are considered, resolving this issue causing a crisis between Turkey and the U.S. was technically possible; however, Washington has not backed down on the issue. One of the major influences behind this stance are the internal political dynamics of the U.S. Top officials in Ankara indicate that they witnessed the conflict of power between areas of influence in Washington.

While authorities emphasize that Turkey has not yet made a final decision regarding the purchase of Patriot missiles, it is expected that the U.S.' last conclusion on the F-35 issue will be decisive for Turkey. What is known for sure is that Turkey is reluctant to purchase Patriot missiles unless its material damages caused by its suspension in the program are addressed. Moreover, it is also estimated that other systematic and technical problems might occur this time if the Patriot missiles are purchased from the U.S.

Considering all these facts, Turkey's suspension from the F-35 fighter jet program seems to be in the middle of both U.S. internal political conflicts and fears concerning foreign policy reservations.

In Ankara on the other hand, the atmosphere looks quite calm contrary to its initially strong reactions. After all, Turkey declared the purchase of the Russian S-400 missile system and has stood behind its word. From this point on, it is Washington that will compensate for Turkey's material damage arising out of the F-35 purchase and try to sell Turkey another missile defense system, while underlining the importance of the NATO alliance. In the forthcoming period, the relationship of the two countries will be put on trial.

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